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FrightFest Day Two – Next Exit, The Harbinger, Short Film Showcase One, Night Sky and Final Cut

After a short first day to get us all warmed up, Day Two of Arrow Video Frightfest was upon us and featured a good thirteen-or-so lucky for some hours of horror and genre films to keep us on the edges of our seats and gripping our armrests tightly.

With a French science-fiction film we had never heard of being the surprise stand out the day before, it felt like anything could happen, and Day Two certainly had a lot of very cool stuff up its sleeve.

The breakout star of Mike Flanagan’s incredible Midnight Mass, Rahul Kohli, was headlining the early film, then there was a feature we excitingly knew very little about it going in, the first selection of short films, the new Brea Grant movie and a remake of a smash hit from a previous FrightFest to finish us off.

Check out all of our FrightFest coverage

NEXT EXIT

Written and directed by Mali Elfman – yes, the daughter of film score composer, Danny Elfman — Next Exit stars Rahul Kohli (Midnight Mass) and Katie Parker (The Haunting of Hill House) alongside a supporting role from Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy).

In the near future, iron-clad proof of the existence of ghosts is captured on video and beamed all over the world. With the afterlife proven, the populus become unafraid of death and many people decide they would actually prefer to die rather than struggle through life any longer.

Life Beyond, an institute headed by Karen Gillan’s Doctor Stevensen promises a safe and pleasant transition to the other side and Rose (Parker) and Teddy (Kohli) decide to drive from New York to San Francisco to participate. Strangers forced into the same car by the rental place’s rigid bureaucracy, the pair embark on a paranormal romantic buddy road trip dramedy that is utterly charming.

Kohli’s Teddy is an easygoing joker constantly trying to break down the walls Rose has built up around herself and, as the pair journey across America, meeting randoms, and getting in scrapes, these two opposites begin to care for one another. Kohli and Parker are both magnetic and their great performances and ever-shifting relationship will break your heart.

Facing the big questions about life and death head-on and never copping out, but always feeling fun and real, Rose, Teddy and Next Exit itself are an absolute pleasure to spend time with and you will fall in love with this one.

Next Exit currently has a USA release date of the 22nd of November

THE HARBINGER

Andy Mitton (The Witch in the Window) writes, directs, edits and even scores the music for The Harbinger, starring Gabby Beans (House of Cards) and Emily Davis (The Plagiarists).

Set during lockdown, Monique (Beans) and her family have a safe and sealed bubble that has so far kept them all COVID-free. That is until an old college friend of Monique’s, Mavis (Davis), gets in touch. Mavis is experiencing some mental health difficulties and is all alone in her New York apartment. Having been pulled through a rough patch by Mavis while they were at school, Monique feels honour bound to go and help her friend.

But, Mavis’ days-long waking nightmares are not in her head – she is being tormented and softened up for the kill by a demon called The Harbinger, and now Monique has her head on the block too. Locked in a small apartment and with only a Demonologist on Zoom their only help, Monique and Mavis must try and find a way to put a stop to The Harbinger before it doesn’t just kill them but removes their every trace of ever having existed.

Skillfully weaving the terrifying supernatural with the very real horror of pandemic isolation and paranoia we are all too familiar with, Mitton has created a properly petrifying COVID-era horror film with some truly massive jumpscares.

Beans, in particular, is excellent and grounds all the demon-y stuff, no matter how outlandish it starts to get, and is a wise and tough enough customer that when she is on the end of The Harbinger’s scares and is afraid – we jump twice as high. Always in total control of every aspect of what we see and hear and when Mitton artfully ratchets the tension, tortures us with suspense and then unleashes jumps that feel earned and created with skill and technique.

There is currently a USA release date for The Harbinger on the 1st of December

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE ONE

Ten terrific shorts played at the first Short Film Showcase of FrightFest 2022, with every single one deserving of a full five stars.

First was Chris McInroy’s Guts, starring Kirk Johnson as an office worker keen to get a promotion and a date with his office crush, but held back by the small problem that his guts are on the outside. With great gags and sticky and sloppy make-up effects, Guts is the funniest, goriest, best short film ever.

Meat Friend is directed by Izzy Lee and stars Marnie McKendry as Billie, a little girl who microwaves some beef mince in an attempt to make hamburgers but instead creates Meat Friend – a sinister sentient pile of chuck intent on getting Billie in trouble. This one is raw insanity featuring a truly unforgettable character brought to icky and intimidating life by the top-notch voice work of Steve Johanson.

After two doses of comedic craziness, Halves Through Night brought the showcase back down to earth with a surreal arthouse tale that, with its floating God cam and automotive mechanical freakiness felt like a fusion of Gaspar Noe and Julia Ducornau.

Cruise features a series of telemarketers tasked with trying to convince their cold calls that they have won an all-expenses-paid cruise holiday. This proves hard enough already, without the added pressure of a bald heavy sat across from them who will shoot them if they can’t shift the prize within three calls! Sam Rudykoff’s short is slick and sharp and may make you think twice about hanging up the next time you receive a scam call…

Cicada was a tense as fuck Korean kerb-crawling thriller short from Daewon Yoon, The Days That (Never) Were is a stylish Spanish animation that sees what would happen to us all if Jupiter took the place of the moon, and The Last Dance is a unique and unsettling murder-in-mostly-monochrome animation.

From Beyond is another black and white short combining live-action and animation and this French cosmic horror supposes how quickly, easily and dangerously we would absorb alien creatures into our culture. With a great final twist we won’t spoil, Joanna Tsanis’ sleep paralysis demon short Smile is a toothy stunner with a terrifying creature designed by Adrian Bobb.

The final two short films both featured Hollywood stars. The Living is a tale of a vampire in therapy played by Brad Dourif (The Exorcist 3, the Child’s Play franchise) and Skin & Bone sees a rural horse farmer, played by Amanda Seyfried (In Time) take on a mysterious drifter as a hired hand.

Dourif is excellent and director Cleo Handler wisely just lets him monologue and reaps the benefits in this sweet-natured story. There is no sweetness in Eli Powers’ Skin & Bone though. This haunting folk horror is a slow-burning chiller that will live long in the memory.

NIGHT SKY

Indie genre film favourites Brea Grant (The Stylist) and AJ Bowen (The Sacrament) star in Night Sky, directed by Jacob Gentry and written by Gentry and Bowen.

Scoundrel Oren (Bowen) is dying of a gunshot to the gut until alien Annie (Grant) heals him, demanding a ride to New Mexico in return. Along the way, the pair meet randoms, get in scrapes and… begin to care… for… one… another. Hang on, didn’t we just do this in Next Exit?

Largely improvised and shot not just on the run from a merciless hitman, but actually guerilla style with no permits too, Night Sky has a realness and immediacy that works really well bouncing off the playful and cute burgeoning relationship and makes for some moments of real romance and magic.

As charming and good as the improv is, it does however lead to a few contradictory story points that, by the muddled and confusing ending where reveals and twists fail to match up with previous information, spoil the journey. The mumblecore style backfires sometimes too, resulting in sections unfocused enough to feel aimless. However, leads Brea Grant and AJ Bowen shine and spark throughout as the loveable pair that you’ll be rooting for in this extraterrestrial road trip hangout movie.

FINAL CUT

A French remake of the Japanese smash One Cut of the Dead, Final Cut is directed by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and stars Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped).

A cheap and cheerful cast and crew, led by a determined director, attempt to shoot a live zombie film where everything seems to go wrong, but perseverance and faith in each other and love of filmmaking win through in Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead.

Hazanavicius’ version lacks all of the original’s energy, passion and skill. Cynical, smarmy, abrasive and charmless, Final Cut manages to make the same story feel too long and clunky and adds a hideous ‘Chelsea Dagger’ needle drop. Please just watch One Cut of the Dead.

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